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by Jennie S. Bev

March 8th is international women’s day.

Indonesian culture and laws reflect a utopian message that men and women live in harmony, in an environment that each gender understands and executes their responsibilities wisely. In this notion, men serve as the heads of the family, the protectors, and the breadwinners, while women as the caretakers of the family members and caring mothers. Alas, not everyone is wise both as a person and an individual of a certain gender, the world is not perfect, and Indonesia is not a utopia, thus such image of perfection is merely a mirage, which comes with consequences.

Today is the 21st century, the era of globalization that Joseph E. Stiglitz has been advocating for fair trade. It is the era in which Web 2.0 citizen journalism has emerged into citizen diplomacy with its real-time technological apparatus that have changed the global culture on digerati and quotidian communities’ levels. It is the era in which women have to work as hard as, or even harder than men, to make differences at world level, not merely for their own families. It is the era that women are equally important politically, socially, economically, and individually.

Yet we can see clearly that Indonesia has not reached a point where both genders unite as one to thrust the nation’s well-being through individual contributions, as there are discriminatory laws and discriminatory actions against women based on various imbalanced, unjust, and unfair fundamentals. Such conditions hinder Indonesia as a nation to strive forward by optimizing, if not maximizing its human capital, of which half of the population are females, as cited from CIA Factbook.

According to the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), Indonesia’s constitution guarantees the equality of women, which is good news. However, there are many laws that clearly discriminate women from the other gender. Cited from UNIFEM, “These laws include family and marriage, including polygamy; age for marriage; divorce and the requirement that a wife obtain her husband’s consent for a passport; economic rights, including ownership and inheritance of land; access to loans and credits; entitlement to social, health and other benefits in the labor sector and the requirement that a wife obtain her husband’s consent for night employment; health, including the requirement that the wife obtain her husband’s consent with regard to sterilization or abortion, even when her life is in danger. As workers, women generally receive lower wages than men; in some industries, female employees are hired as daily laborers, allowing employers to avoid the extension of benefits. Women’s literacy rates and health status are generally lower than men’s. Muslim women face particular obstacles to equality before shari’a courts.”

Working women of all socio-economic-religio statuses also must face higher taxation according to Law no. 17/2000, in which they will be paying the undeducted tax rate as “singles” unless they can show a proof, which must be signed and approved by their husbands and sub-district authorities that they indeed carry the financial burden of the family.

Based on the required consent from husbands for married women to engage in public and private agreements while men have full authority to act on their own without any restrictions, it is evident that the Indonesian law, which is a reflection of the culture, places men’s status above women. In short, women in Indonesia are “the other gender.” The sidekick. The helper. The assistant. The one who must obey.

Does it make any sense in today’s world? There are some arguments as of why women are placed “under the protection” of men. Women have reproductive functions that should be protected. Women are “weaker” biologically. Women are destined by the Divine Power, whoever or whatever the definition is, to be the gatekeeper and the caretaker of homes and families. Women are men’s lovers; women are men’s sweethearts whom they adore so much, thus should always be within the protection, care, and supervision of men so they can make sure that women are taken care for.

Those arguments may sound making some sense to those who romanticize gender relationship. Nonetheless, they place women in the so-called “golden cage,” or better yet “invisible cage.” Such arguments usually serve as the foundations of religious, legal, and cultural acts against women, be they acknowledged officially, consciously, or not. And such cage is confinement in its full meaning of the word.

Indonesia has ratified UN’s Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1980. CEDAW itself is adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly and often described as an international bill of rights for women. It consists of a preamble and 30 articles, and defines what constitutes discrimination against women. In addition, it sets up an agenda for national action to end such discrimination.

Cited from the United Nation’s site, The Convention defines discrimination against women as “…any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.”

Thus, the logical and legal consequence of accepting the Convention is committing itself to undertake a series of measures to end discrimination against women in all forms.

First, to incorporate the principle of equality of men and women in their legal system, abolish all discriminatory laws and adopt appropriate ones prohibiting discrimination against women. Second, to establish tribunals and other public institutions to ensure the effective protection of women against discrimination. At last, to ensure elimination of all acts of discrimination against women by persons, organizations or enterprises. We are yet to see the first measure to take place.

At last, while it may take years for Indonesian government to make changes and adjustments to existing laws, the society should be aware of shifting roles between the two genders. The old paradigm that the man of the house is the sole provider and the sole protector of the family should be mindfully and wisely changed, even though not in all families. Many women have to become breadwinners, be they choose so or not. And whatever their reasons are, it is time for the society to accept this phenomenon and to acknowledge them as equal partners.

It is not about being feminists, but more urgently, is about being acknowledged as equal human beings. In addition, today’s men should also be aware of their share in the role shift: the rise of fair masculinism.

A true man is not one who loves his woman by confining her with his authority, but one who frees her and wishes her responsible independence.[]

 Asia Blogging Network, March 10, 2008

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